Conversation with Deborah Sosin, author of Charlotte and the Quiet Place
Jambo Books (JB): Where do you live?
Deborah Sosin (Sosin): I live in Watertown, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston.
JB: How did you get started as an author?
Sosin: I’ve always considered myself a writer and have published expository essays, op-eds, scholarly articles, and creative nonfiction over the years. I only started calling myself an “author” after the publication of Charlotte and the Quiet Place. It’s a funny distinction. I guess having a book out makes one an author!
JB: You wear a lot of hats – therapist, editor, writer, writing coach, and choral singer. How do you find balance?
Sosin: That’s a good question. It’s a challenge sometimes and every day is different. I try to prioritize my to-do list—I love having a plan and deadlines. The structure and accountability keep me going. I also make sure to exercise and meditate every day, so that keeps me anchored.
JB: You are also a certified laughter yoga leader. Can you explain what that is?
Sosin: I studied laughter yoga with Dr. Madan Kataria, who developed it many years ago in India. He leads groups of thousands of people, who gather in outdoor parks or meeting places. The process involves laughing without the use of humor or jokes—it’s getting people to do the physical act of laughter for no reason as a means of releasing stress. There are all sorts of other health benefits to laughing. So you can be sad, believe it or not, and just laugh out loud for no reason, and endorphins are released that boost the immune system. People can look up Dr. Kataria on YouTube—it might seem weird and awkward at first but it’s great! Last month, I visited my 96-year-old mother. She was feeling anxious about her physical limitations. So she and her aide and I did laughter together, “HA HA HA HA,” which was hilarious and stress-relieving. Try it!
JB: What inspired you to write Charlotte and the Quiet Place?
Sosin: I wanted to share my own experience of meditation with children—when I slow everything down in my body and mind, I can access a deeply peaceful place inside. I have always felt that all children have that quiet place inside, which they can access through mindfulness (tuning in to the present moment) and conscious breathing. Children today can be overly stressed, so meditation and mindfulness are an important way to teach them that they have some control over their environment and experiences.
JB: The main character in Charlotte and the Quiet Place experiences sensory overload the way many children do. How was the decision made to make Charlotte’s character an African-American little girl?
Sosin: They say “write what you know.” So, since this was my first picture-book manuscript, I wrote the story and, in my mind, I imagined Charlotte to be a mini-version of me, a curly-haired Jewish girl growing up in the suburbs in the 1950s. When Rachel Neumann, former publisher at Parallax Press, bought the book, she had a different vision for it—she saw Charlotte as a girl of color in a noisy city. This made sense to me from a storytelling point of view and opened up many possibilities for more noisy sounds. But at first I was worried about what it might mean to be a white author with an African-American protagonist—would I be criticized for cultural appropriation? Then I learned about the very low percentage of picture books that feature kids of color as protagonists, so I got excited about Rachel’s vision and the possibility of contributing to the literature. There has been some increase in the number of “casual minority protagonists” in children’s literature, meaning stories in which race is incidental (as opposed to stories with stereotypical themes such as civil rights or slavery or overcoming oppression). The word “minority” is even a misnomer, as over 50 percent of children under five in the U.S. are kids of color. Of course, when I saw Sara Woolley’s amazing artwork, I fell in love with Charlotte right away and never looked back.
JB: Do you have any tips for parents and children who are trying to find their own quiet places inside their daily routines?
Sosin: Great question. For kids to learn and practice mindfulness and/or meditation, it’s best if the parents are practicing too. So I would suggest that parents seek out a local class or an online app such as Happify.com or Calm.com or InsightTimer.com to learn about mindfulness and then set up a family routine to incorporate both the “sitting” (meditating) part and the philosophy of being aware of what is happening right here and now, without judgment and with acceptance. There are a lot of books on the topic for parents. Folks might want to check out those by Dr. Christopher Willard or Dr. Carla Naumburg. Or do an online search for “children and mindfulness”—it’s everywhere!
JB: How do you connect with children, the ultimate consumers of Charlotte and the Quiet Place?
Sosin: I love doing author visits at elementary schools, where I present an interactive Charlotte reading, then teach children (and teachers too!) some simple, calming mindfulness exercises; and talk about the writing and publishing process. There’s nothing more gratifying than being in a roomful of children who are blissfully breathing in and out, in and out, in unison.
JB: Who are some of the authors who have influenced you?
Sosin: I am steeped in the adult literature about mindful self-compassion of late—books by Dr. Christopher Germer and Dr. Kristin Neff come to mind. Some mindfulness picture books that I like are by Kerry MacLean, Susan Verde, Gail Silver, Thich Nhat Hanh, Andrew Jordan Nance, Rana DiOrio, Deborah Salazar Shapiro, and Licia Morelli. It’s a growing field with lots of possibilities!
JB: Thank you so much for your time.